Tuesday, January 25, 2005

M16 Bahia Brazil

I thought culture shock was what I was supposed to experience as soon as I got to a strange land. More often it’s what I experience when I come back home to the US. Most recently, I experienced it twice, within the same trip to Bahia State Brazil.

I am heading to a 2-year-old complex of resorts clustered around a faux colonial village called Costa Do Suipe just north of Salvador, Brazil. The main entrance looks like a toll booth and no one but the paying guests and the hired help are getting through.

At dinner I found out that Brazilian food is fabulous for vegetarians. There is plenty of variety and lots of healthy veggies. The food is served buffet style which might explain why I saw so many fat people by the pool stuffing themselves with food and drowning themselves with alcohol. The next day, I read in the New York Times that Brazilians are starting to face the same mass (no pun intended) epidemic rates of obesity that we are in the United States.

I ate well, I drank well too. I may have been jet-lagged due to the 3-hour time difference and the overnight flight on which I did not sleep but that was nothing a dose of the ubiquitous Brazilian coffee couldn’t cure. Even the coffee in the hotel conference rooms was delicious and strong.

When I wasn’t downing coffee, I absorbed more culture by discovering a new alcoholic beverage, the capriniha. Made from a local alcohol, cacacha, it’s mixed with lime and sugar. The first day I was there one nearly made me fall off the back of my seat. By my final day I was proud - or should I be ashamed? - to report I was able siphon down 5 and still stand on two feet.

I didn’t see much during the week except the hotel conference rooms and the faux village. I did manage to sneak off twice. Once on a bike ride through the resort’s white sand dunes that could be mistaken for snow. The other time, I took a cab the real town on which the faux one was modeled; Praiya do Forte home of the TOMAR Project, an environmental organization dedicated to preserving local ocean turtles.

It was getting dark, but I managed to check out some Volkswagen-sized leather back turtles at the preserve and their nests on the beach. The town was a mixture of tourist shops and old decaying stores and houses.

Back a the resort, there is a disco filled with co-workers where I discovered MPB, Brazilian Pop Music and Brazilian drum ‘n’ bass. I was surprised to learn of the latter’s popularity here. But I guess given the percussive nature of the indigenous music (samba, bossa nova, axe, African rhythms), it should be no surprise at all. Later I would pick up some inspiring CD’s in Salvador. I am exclusively listening to Brazilian music these days and am totally inspired but what I’ve found: DJ Patif, Jota Quest, Fernanda Porto and the new love of my life Ive Mendes who is visually more gorgeous than her voice.

The second night I was there they imported some Capoiera dancers. Capoiera was developed as a martial art by slaves to fight their masters (right-on!). Maybe we could come up with something like this for the office?! It was banned but the slaves disguised it as a form of dance which still is practiced today. It is performed by two dancers and if one makes a wrong move, then let’s just say it becomes a fight.

By Friday the country club was starting to feel like a country club prison. I was itching to get out.

Salvador, the original capital of Brazil, was in its heyday the second city of the Portuguese Empire after Lisbon. It seems changing capitals for the Brazilians is something of a national pastime. Salvador was the first capital, then Rio and then in the 1950’s the capital was moved to its present day location, Brasilia. The former is most modern city to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its stunning (and somewhat frightening) modern architecture and urban planning.

The people of Salvador are almost entirely of African descent. Their forefathers, brought as slaves from Africa, were allowed to retain their tribal customs to a degree greater than any where else in the new world. Thus visible today is the evolution of the culture the African slaves brought with them to the new world. Salvador is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its stunning architecture, most of which is completely dilapidated but is in the process of being preserved.

Saturday, I took the bus to the airport, dropped off my extra baggage in a locker and took a local bus into downtown Salvador. I decided to get off one stop early and walk to the center city. It looked pretty close on the map.

Unfortunately, I walked and walked and walked. It was getting dark, I hadn’t found the old city and I didn’t have a hotel or hostel. I almost gave up, but I kept going and I finally found the antique city.

It was filled with throngs of most Brazilian tourists and I made my way to my hotel, a pousada. That’s a European style hotel with a communal area. A notch above a hostel but it’s roughly the same idea.

I was totally stunned by the architecture. The only thing I could think of is: this is Rome by the sea but it’s in this hemisphere. I’ve never seen anything like it and I will let my pictures speak to the grandeur of the city. It’s hard to believe I had barely heard of this place.

The scene was a little sketchy at times. It was hard to just try to absorb it all by just taking it and without getting hassled by people trying to sell me things. Of course I was excited when people spoke to me in Spanish, but by the second day there, I learned to ignore anyone approaching me in an unsolicited fashion.

At night, I found a delicious middle eastern restaurant where I met two gorgeous, cool and intelligent Canadian women and a British couple. I went dancing with the former at one of the many impromptu samba concerts. The guys were all over the girls and even triple-teamed us. Even though I wasn’t technically “with” either of these girls, it was assumed such and a guy came over to “teach” my white ass to dance while his two buddies danced with the girls.

It was all innocent enough until they wouldn’t leave the girls alone. Until the waitress whom I had tipped (but didn’t have to) whispered in my ear “no es seguro” or it’s not safe to hang with these dudes. Then while I walked the women back to their hotel one of the guys wouldn’t stop following us back. On my return to my hotel just a few minutes later, he spotted me and was visibly upset that I had foiled his designs for the evening whilst not even having designs of my own.

That’s a buzz kill if there ever was one.

The architecture and views were fabulous, but it did seem like trouble was just around the corner. I would have like to have spent more than two days there. Music was literally everywhere; in the streets in the buildings in concert halls. It was like being in Carnival but it wasn’t carnival yet.

Next stops: tbd. I am chilling in Mexico for a few weeks and hopefully will just get to enjoy things here for a spell.

No comments: